The idea of the infinte is also symbolically suggested by Conrad at this threshold to Marlow's adventure. This is so because knitting and the knots it creates has the graphic symbolism of the spiral and the sigmoid line which is shaped like the figure 8 which symbolizes the manifestation of the infinite.
The threshold symbolism suggested by Marlow's encounter with the two women guarding the threshold of the adventure he is about to undertake is confirmed after he briefly meets with the secretary of the company and returns to the waiting room to fill out his papers for employment with the company. As Marlow observes:
"...there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though I had been let into some conspiracy - I don't know - something not quite right; and I was glad to get out. In the outer room the two women knitted black wool feverishly. People were arriving, and the younger one was walking back and forth introducing them. The old one sat on her chair. Her flat cloth slippers were propped up on a foot-warmer, and a cat reposed in her lap. She wore a starched white affair on her head, had a wart on one cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung on the tip of her nose. She glanced at me above the glasses. The swift and indifferent placidity of that look troubled me. Two youths with foolish and cheery countenances were being piloted over, and she threw at them the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She seemed to know all about them and about me, too."
Marlow finds that an "eerie feeling" comes over him. The old woman seems to him "uncanny and fateful." Marlow adds at the end of the scene that he later thought of the two women as "guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scruntinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes."
It is through this symbolic threshold that one of the most famous journeys in all of literature really begins.
The place symbolism of towns and villages stands between the symbolism of farms and that of cities. Towns are farther away from nature than farms but not as far away as cities. Unlike cities which are surrounded by suburbs, towns are surrounded by farms and country. Towns are part of the country and rather than parts of the suburbs of cities.
As a testament to this special place is the continuing themes from literature and cinema and television which celebrate life in the small town. In the 60s, it was television shows like The Andy Griffith Show which showed life in small towns. In the 90s, this nostalgic desire to return to small towns lives on in popular television shows like Northern Exposure. As Brandon Tartikoff, former head of Paramount Pictures notes in the October 17, 1992 TV Guide, "Northern Exposure satisfies the fantasy of living in a small town in America where you can leave your door unlocked."
The symbolism of towns is an important part of American mythology and the Western story genre in particular. They serve to counterpoint the barren deserts and prairies which surrounds them. As Jane Tompkins notes in West of Everything, there "is a tremendous tension in Westerns between the landscape and town. The genre pulls towards the landscape - that, in a sense, is its whole point. But because there's so much emphasis on getting away, town also exerts a tremendous pull; otherwise there would be no reason to flee." This presents a paradox. Towns in Westerns are great seducers and function as "surrogate homes." They supply things like physical comfort and companionship to the cowboy but at the same time Tompkins notes "they always threaten to entrap the hero in the very things he wishes to avoid: intimacy, mutual dependence, a network of social and emotional responsibilities."
10. Places of Consumption
This section would not be complete without the addition of those phenomena of our modern world defined by one scholar as "places of consumption." In Place, Modernity, and the Consumer's World geography professor Robert David Sack argues for a contextual perspective of modern consumption remarking that consumption is a "place-creating and place altering act." In this sense we consume not only the products which are advertised within various contexts but also the contexts themselves.
In his book, Sack observes that places of consumption "have rapidly spread across the landscape in the last hundred years." The result is that much of the modern world is composed of these types of places. They are familiar places and we all know them very well. They "constitute much of the modern home and its furnishings, planned neighborhoods and housing developments, shopping strips along highways, cityscapes, shopping malls, recreational areas and resorts, recreational theme parks, and natural settings, and vast tracts of countries that are mass consumed as tourist attractions." It is within these places that most of our "nonworking lives" are spent.
(a) Stores and Shopping Malls
The commodities described in advertising are contained in stores and, as Sack notes, the store's environment must be attractive for these commodities to sell. In effect, the store "acts as an advertisement for the commodities, displaying them in a way that makes them as attractive as they were in the media ads." Just as the character of the hero in stories is best symbolized by the context of the place that the hero is in, the character of products is best symbolized by the context of the place they are placed in. In a very real sense, products are the heros of our advertisements.
As Sack remarks, the sense of the store as a context for consumption is "accelerated and extended to a larger environment when stores take advantage of their proximity to other stores in business districts and especially in shopping malls." We wander through stores and shopping malls in much the same way as we browse through the ads in media. In fact, stores and shopping malls are media. "Commodities, stores, and clusters of stores," notes Sack, "become landscapes that advertise both particular goods and consumption, in general." Interestingly enough, as Sack points out, these landscapes not only contain commodities that can be consumed but it is really the landscape itself which is being consumed.
In his Place, Modernity, and the Consumer's World Sack traces the evolution of shopping malls from department stores and retail chain stores to modern shopping malls and the developing trend towards "mega-malls" containing unified consumption contexts of sporting arenas, hotels and entertainment centers. As Sack remarks, the geography of shopping malls differs in several important respects from that of ordinary shops on public streets. In many ways, they are similar to movie or stage sets. Stand alone shops are part of an "unplanned and uncoordinated system" but in contrast shopping malls are "privately owned and planned from the bottom up." The plan regulates all apsects of the design and appearance of the stores within the mall.
Traditionally, stores faced streets and sidewalks with attached parking lots. A major turning point in the evolution of shopping malls was the mall built in 1931 by Hugh Prather of Dallas who had the mall's shops face inward and away from the road. As Sack remarks, in this design "parking lots and sidewalks are removed from the public domain." This facing inward rather than outward was an extremely important development in the evolution of shopping malls. By facing inward and away from the current public streets and sidewalks the malls began to proclaim their independence from the outside world and begin the creation of a manufactured inside world of consumption.
As William Kowinski observes in his book The Malling of America the enclosed mall "focuses attention inward" by removing consumers from the outside world and placing them in a completely artificial environment. This artificial environment has no windows so light and temperature are both controlled artificially. As Sack notes, malls further enhance the sense of being in a world apart through the placement along the promenades of artificial objects such as fountains, shrubbery, palm trees, simulated lava and waterfalls with rocks. "The purpose of the environment," observes Sack, "is not relaxtation, however, but titillation. The mall is there to stimulate the desire for commodities." But even more than this, malls themselves are commodities.
Certainly one of the most visible of the modern places of consumption are theme parks such as Busch Gardens, Six Flags, King's Island, Opryland, Cedar Point, Disneyland and Disney World. Although they sell enormous quantities of commodities, like shopping malls the primary commodities they sell are the landscapes or contexts their visitors consume.
The original model for theme parks is Disneyland in California. As historian William Thompson notes in his At The Edge of History, "Disneyland itself is a kind of television set, for one flips from medieval castles to submarines and rockets." And Sack adds that "Disneyland has been called the Town Square of Los Angeles." The largest theme park is Disney World in Florida covering twenty-eight thousand acres or forty-three square miles and roughly the size of San Francisco. It is composed of two major attractions: EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom. The EPCOT Center surrounds a lake and contains technological and cultural areas while the Magic Kingdom is a larger model of the original Disneyland in California.
While there are a number of possible explanations for the incredible success of Disneyland and Disney World one can make a strong argument that the major reason relates to the symbolism of place which the two Disney theme parks represent. Both are composed of four major areas or "lands": Adventure Land, Frontier Land, Fantasy Land and Tomorrow Land. Interestingly, the symbolism of place in the two theme parks is closely connected to the traditional story genres and also to American mythology.
In this sense Fantasy Land is symbolic of fantasy and fairy tales and stories within this genre such as Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and those of Jules Verne about undersea exploration such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Frontier Land symbolizes the early American mythology and legends of Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and Tom Sawyer. There is Tom Sawyer's Island which is approaced by a raft ride over the Rivers of America. The Gold Rush days of America are represented by the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride offering a roller-coaster ride through the days of the gold rush. It is the time of the eighteenth and nineteenth century and a place of forts and Indians and wilderness before the settlement of the continent.
Adventure Land offers symbolism of the great adventure stories of the H. Ryder Haggard type which were popular in the late part of the nineteenth century. Included within its attractions are the Swiss Family Robinson's tree house and the jungle cruise which has a strong connection to the jungle stories of Rudyard Kipling which focus around a later period in American mythology and history and on the pirate stories of Robert Louis Stevenson represented in the ride The Pirates of the Caribbean. Tomorrow Land is centered on the science fiction genre and stories about space exploration. All of these lands are entered through Main Street which represents America at the turn of the century.
While the focus of Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland is basically on the symbolism of American places and American mytholical history that of EPCOT Center is on world places. It consists of seven national showcases each which attempts to offer symbolism of the countries of Mexico, Japan, Germany, China, Morocco, France, Great Britain, Canada and America.
Although theme parks like Disneyland and Disney World offer an extreme of places of consumption Sack reminds us that they are really similar to our megamalls, residential theme parks and downtown urban renewal efforts. As he notes about Disney World:
"It draws things together from different times, different parts of the world, and different domains of reality and thereby juxtaposes reality and fantasy, past and future, and distant places and near ones. It makes generic amusement park rides specific by presenting them in new contexts. But it also makes the specific more generic: France and China, Mexico and Morocco become shopping malls."
As Sack observes, the promise of Disney World is to release us from our own contexts and place us at the center of other contexts. "We can be astronauts journeying to Mars, physicists living in a satellite community near the moon, children drifting along the Mississippi River on Tom Sawyer's barge, or forty-niners in the gold rush." Essentially, it provides us with an opportunity to find our roots, to return "home" on Main Street USA.
Like shopping malls, theme parks such as Disney World are attempts to create fantasy places of consumption. The fantasy of these new places though relates back to the basic symbolism of places we have discussed. Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for the success of Disneyland and Disney World is related to the fact that the places these theme parks have chosen to display for their visitors are the basic places and times of the American myth and story genres. In the end, places of consumption are really no more than current contexts of mythological places that the American culture has branded as important and enduring.